Female unemployment exceeds men's for first time since recession

Alana Semuels

LOS ANGELES -- For the first time since the recession began, the unemployment rate for adult women surpassed that for adult men, indicating that while the U.S. might have been in a "mancession," it also appears to be experiencing a "mancovery."

The unemployment rate for women 20 years and older rose to 7.3 percent in December, from 7 percent the month before. Unemployment for men of the same age remained at 7.2 percent in December.

The persistently high unemployment rate for women is likely a result of the large cuts in state and local governments that have come over the last year as lawmakers slashed jobs to close budget gaps. The economy lost 13,000 government jobs from November to December, and has lost 68,000 since December 2011.

Overall, December marked another lukewarm month of hiring, the government said Friday in an employment report that suggested the economy had weathered "fiscal cliff" uncertainty but probably will muddle along for some time with subpar growth.

The unemployment rate held steady at 7.8 percent in December as employers added 155,000 jobs, the Labor Department said, bringing the full-year total to 1.835 million jobs in 2012.

Private-sector employers added 168,000 posts last month, but the overall number was dragged down by 13,000 government jobs lost. The 155,000 jobs reported fell in the range of the monthly average for all for 2012, which happened also to be the monthly average for 2011: 153,000. It means that hiring is on a steady, albeit not robust, trajectory.

"We sort of went through the fiscal cliff debate and firms continued to hire. And there is more underlying strength in the economy that really was not going to be scared away by all this fiscal cliff debate," said John Silvia, the chief economist for Wells Fargo Securities, who thinks the economy is growing about the best it can in this environment. "It's doing OK. It's not a boom, but it's doing OK."

While hiring has held steady for two years, Silvia thinks it would be even better if not for a skills gap, a structural issue that leaves too few skilled workers for the jobs that need to be filled.

"It's hard to put these (unemployed) people to work in a lot of these areas that require computer literacy," he said. "It's a very different type of manufacturing worker than 30 or 40 years ago."

This helps explain why the number of long-term jobless, those who've been out of work for half a year or more, held steady at 4.8 million in December and accounted for 39 percent of all the unemployed

There was nothing in Friday's report that pointed to a sharp drop in the jobless rate. The economy generally needs to create 150,000 jobs each month just to keep pace with new entrants into the workforce.

"For me this report indicates an economy that is stuck on a shallow growth trajectory," Steven Ricchiuto, the chief economist for Mizuho Securities USA, said in a research note.

Women occupy about two-thirds of public sector jobs, according to Joan Entmacher, vice president for Family Economic Security at the National Women's Law Center. Women make up a large part of local government payrolls because they are a large proportion of the teachers in the country. The nation lost 53,900 local government education jobs in the last year.

"Women are really bearing the brunt of it," Entmacher said. "Many people were talking about the recession as something that was really a problem for men, but this is a demonstration that yes, the recession did hit men faster and harder, but now we have to be creating jobs for women and men."

Unemployment rose for single mothers, indicating that households headed by women could be especially vulnerable in the recovery. Such households are already at a disadvantage because women make less money than men. A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics study indicates that women made 82 percent of what men made in 2011.

As the government struggles to come to agreement on how best to handle the deficit, there will likely be more government jobs on the chopping block. That could be bad news for the 5.1 million women, aged 20 and over, who are still out of work.

Gale Satchell of Pittsburgh has struggled to find a job in a tight market. The 45-year old customer service rep has had sporadic employment over the last four years, and was on unemployment benefits for so long they eventually ran out. She recently found a job at customer service at the Internal Revenue Service, but it's not permanent.

"I had a lot of interviews, but I just couldn't get hired," she said. "I had no idea what the problem was."

Information from reporter Kevin G. Hall of McClatchy Newspapers was used in this story.

Los Angeles Times